Crimsonstar/Homecoming: Part V

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Author's note

Ranks of the Star Brigade. Arranged from highest level to lowest.

Nova—Only ever one in office.

Red Giant



Crimsonstar—This is the rank when a member is given the protostar matter that grants them powers.


White Dwarf


Star—all Star Brigade entrants are automatically ranked as Star.

Black Hole—This is a rank anyone in the Bridgade DOES NOT want. It is reserved for those Star Brigade members that have disgraced the Brigade. It is a dishonorable discharge.

The Andromeda galaxy, the outer rim of the established worlds in the Kairin Empire. Eight years ago.

“Andromedan Star Cruiser 623, day fifty four of assigned patrol and training route through the Kairin worlds, Cluster Marsius Denthar commanding. I’ve been given the task of providing further training to White Dwarf Janus Darron. He is eager to learn and he studies the histories and people of each new Andromedan planet we visit days in advance. Like most newly promoted White Dwarf’s he is apprehensive about his first tour of duty in the system and at times is quick to question protocols on contact with each planet. I find that his commitment to his studies while impressive often lacks comprehension. For instance, he knows that the people of Andromeda 11 will not initiate physical contact, but he fails to understand the reasoning. He must learn that being a member of the Star Brigade means more than just knowing the facts of the planets, but understanding the life of its residents beyond what the Academy teaches him.

“White Dwarf Marshi Brax by comparison is quickly showing that she has compassion for all of the people of the Kairin Empire and that her aptitude has far surpassed the level usually associated with members of her rank. Wherein Janus studies extensively to learn and know all of our planets, Marshi has herself admitted to sometimes not even studying the material of each planet preferring to learn it through contact with it’s people. While her approach leaves her susceptible to misunderstandings, it has the advantage of immediately endearing her to the populace. I fully expect her to reach Cluster rank within the next two years and running her own star cruiser with her own compliment of cadets shortly after.

“With the promotion of my first officer, White Dwarf Paxli Cohn to Cluster and about to receive his orders from Star Brigade, I must now make a decision as to who I recommend for the position. After careful deliberation I have decided that White Dwarf Marshi Brax will serve as the better of the two. Formal request has been made and filed to Nova Strangham. I expect confirmation within the next few days.”

Marsius completed his daily ship log and ordered the ship’s computer to log and file the entry. It would be uploaded within minutes to the Star Brigade archives. He removed his Cluster pin rank insignia laying it on his table and removed his dress jacket. He crossed his cabin and looked out his port window at the stars as his ship glided continuously toward Andromeda 16. He had been a Cluster now for two years and this would be his fifth patrol route through the system and of those five, this was his second where he had been assigned new White Dwarfs for further training. He loved it. Not so much the training of new officers, that carried duties and obligations that he quite frankly could do without. It was the travel to each world, followed by the inevitable three to four days on the planet surface that naturally followed that was what he loved. There were wonders to be seen on his own homeworld of Andromeda 3 to be sure, after all the seat of the Kairin Empire and Star Brigade command was there. Only the experience of seeing all the worlds in the empire, conversing with the people, hearing their stories and visiting their cities, that for him defined his service in the Brigade. White Dwarf Brax shared this trait with him and it was only logical that he had chosen her to become his new first officer.

He thought of Tanna back home, tending to her own studies at the Coula Academy. He knew that she eagerly awaited the day when she would be done with her studies and that Marsius would earn a promotion to patrol duties to just the inner core worlds, which would not keep him away from home for more than a day or two at a time. He sighed and looked down at her picture on the port sill. He told her he would place her picture there so that she could enjoy the view of their star system with her. “Tanna I miss you very much, my wife to be. Only I don’t know how I can leave this.” He said, motioning to the stars on the other side of the glass. He continued to undress and lay down upon his bed. It had been a long day and tomorrow promised to be longer. They should be arriving at Andromeda 16 and he once again had an entire itinerary for both Marshi and Janus. His cabin lights had only been off for a few minutes when his comm beeped. He sat up and activated the unit.

“Yes?” he said.

“Cluster Denthar, long range scans have picked up a starship on the fringe of Kairin space. It’s Talexian, sir.” Said the voice of his bridge officer on duty.

“Wake White Dwarfs Brax and Darron.” He said quickly getting out of bed and started to dress.

The Talexian ship slowly slid through space towards their cruiser. It was small, less than half the size of their own, and ancient battle scars marred its sides. Marsius stood on the bridge of his ship, watching its approach in their view screen. Janus and Marshi stood behind him.

“Have they hailed us?” Marsius asked his bridge crew.

“Not yet, sir.” Said his communications officer. Then as if the Talexians had heard them, the comm panel beeped that a communication request had come through. “On screen.” Marsius said. The screen changed and a creature large in stature appeared before them. Its face had two large solid black eyes, tusks protruded from the corners of its mouth and its skin was a dark yellow. Marsius turned to his bridge officer who opened a finely wood carved box which held a silver dagger with jewel encrusted hilt. Marsius took the dagger and approached his view screen so that he stood directly in front of it. Then in one swift movement he sliced the blade across the palm of his hand and pressed the wound to the view screen, leaving a bloody smear on it. “Paxin car monti asso degaa.” He snapped. Janus and Marshi exchanged surprised glances, but were held in check by the hand of the first officer that motioned they needed to wait. The creature took a dagger of his own, repeated Marsius’ actions. “Paxin dar manti asso fari.” It hissed back. Marsius returned to the center of his bridge, handing the dagger back to his first officer. He made no attempt to dress his wound. The creature then stepped back, bowed and said. “May Kairin be with you.” it said.

“May Kairin offer his strength to yours.” Marsius said. Janus and Marshi while not knowing what was going on knew at this point they had witnessed a strange and old greeting.

“You honor us with our tongue.” The creature said.

“And you with ours.” Marsius replied. He now allowed his medical team to bandage his hand. “Cluster Marsius Denthar, officer of the Andromedan Star Brigade.” He said.

“Garnin Zzak, First Royal of the Zzak house.” It said.

“Is it your Time of Passing?” Marsius asked.


“Shall your Passing be told with a Cry to the Creators, or by the Whisper to the Ancestors?” Marsius asked.

“We are of the Antis Clan, we will Whisper to the Ancestors.” It said. Marsius bowed to the creature and the communication was cut and the screen returned to the view of space and the Talexian ship. Marsius turned heading for the bridge doors. “Janus, Marshi, please come with me to the hangar bay.” He said and led them out.

They walked down the long corridor to the hangar bay. The occasion should have called for silence by whoever was about to perform it, but Marsius knew that he would have to explain the situation to his two charges.

“The Talexians are an ancient race once bred of warriors. They are a peaceful race, but the needs of their warriors’ heart still play a vital role in certain events of their life. Events such as the birth of a child, marriage to a spouse, and their deaths. When the time for their death, the Time of Passage, comes, they board the ancient warships of their ancestors and enter space to find their release. Since their history is rich with the ways of the warrior, they do not wait for death to come and take them, when it is their time, they go to embrace it. In a pact formed with the Kairin Empire decades long before any of us were born, it was decreed that when a group of the Talexian’s are ready to die, they come to the edge of Andromedan space, and request of us a warrior’s death.”

“You mean we’re to kill them?” Marshi asked.

“To them it is not killing. We are sending them to their final rest.” Marsius replied his hands crossed behind his back as he walked.

“What was that strange language you first spoke when you saw him?” Janus inquired.

“The Talexian language. My greeting translates as “I bear my blood to call you friend.” His response was “I take your blood to mine to call you brother.’ You haven’t been instructed in this ritual simply because the Talexian life span is two hundred and eighty years.” Here he allowed himself to turn and smile. “We believed we had time to educate you on this before you would have needed it.”

“Then what was the bit about crying to creators or whispering?”

“Custom dictates that they choose the manner of their deaths. A Cry to the Creators means that they die in battle, as they did when they were warriors. It’s not a real battle; they used stun phasers only and minimal shielding. A Whisper to the Ancestors means they face a warrior’s defeat and symbolically bear their breasts to their enemy. In our case, we fly a single shuttle to their unarmed ship and fire upon it, destroying it.” They arrived at the hangar and entered to find the ship engineers had a shuttle loaded and ready to depart for its mission. He turned to the two of them. “Marshi, you have already exhibited the importance of honoring the customs of the varied races of the Andromedan galaxy. It will serve you well in the years to come should and when you deal with races not of our galaxy. Janus, I am assigning this to you. Your shuttle is ready. You leave within the hour.” And he left Janus there leading Marshi back to the bridge.

They watched from the bridge as Janus’ shuttle approached the Talexian ship and glided around to the back of it. “Target their ship engine, Janus. It’ll make it quick and efficient.” Marsius said, mostly to himself as they were holding radio silence to honor the Talexians final moments. The shuttle stopped just outside of its weapons range. For several long seconds it sat still, making no movement. Marsius crossed his arms, letting out a concerned sigh. What was taking Janus so long? Had he been wrong in sending him to honor the Talexians request?

“Cluster Denthar. White Dwarf Darron has powered up the shuttles tractor system.” said one of his bridge officers. Marsius spun around quickly. “What?”

“Affirmative sir, he has activated the tractor field.” And Marsius and all the bridge staff turned to see the shuttle’s tractor field engulf the Talexian ship. Slowly the shuttle and ship started to move away. “Kairin’s blood be damned, comm open a channel to the shuttle!” he yelled.

“Shuttle online sir.”

“Janus, what are you doing? You are to destroy that ship. There is no need to move it; we are not at risk from its destruction.” He said, hoping that Janus was just being cautious. The comm channel was silent a few more seconds before Janus finally answered. “Cluster Denthar, how can we do this? Our job is to protect the people of the Andromeda galaxy and the Kairin Empire. Shouldn’t it be the same for any race we encounter?”


“The Talexians don’t have to die simply because they feel their old, and we shouldn’t be allowing them to just accept death before it’s due. Nor should we be aiding them by offering them ‘mercy killings’ simply because of an outdated pact made out of fear.”

“Janus!” Marsius yelled.

“Maybe the Talexians don’t realize they can have other options. Maybe they’ve never even considered it. What if we offer them a chance to live out their remaining years here, in Andromeda?” Janus said the shuttle and the ship now starting to pick up speed. “On Andromeda 16 there is a beautiful island, sparsely populated. The Talexians can live there, with little contact with anyone else.”

Marsius was infuriated now, and turned directly to the command console yelling into the comm channel. “White Dwarf Darron you are disobeying a direct order. Do not approach Andromeda 16! You are to discharge your plasma cannon on the Talexian ship and destroy it! You are on the verge of creating an interstellar incident, if this should reach the Talexian Primogen…”

The comm channel beeped a second incoming message. It was the Talexian ship, but only on audio feed. “You are dishonoring our request! We come to you in faith, offer our blood unto yours and you deny us of our right of Passing! Is the Kairin Empire so confident in its strength that it’s Star Brigade can reject the Pact of Migar?”

Marsius tried to answer but the Talexians cut their channel before he could. “There it goes, sir. They’ve just sent an outgoing transmission to the Talexian homeworld.” His bridge officer advised him. Marsius slammed his fist down on the console. He turned back to the view screen watching Janus pilot his shuttle towards the direction of Andromeda 16 with the Talexian ship in tow. “Power up our plasma cannon.” He said. Marshi stepped up to him. “You’re going to destroy the Talexians?” she inquired.

“Yes, and if I have to Janus’s shuttle as well.” He answered.

“Cluster Denthar, may I speak freely?” she asked.


“Could Janus be right? Do they have to die simply because of an old pact?”

“Marhsi, there is a reason the Talexians live two hundred and eighty years. Generations of biogenetic engineering have given them extended life. When they reach their last year the same engineering that grants them longevity also takes it from them. Their bodies become toxic. Not just to them but to those around their dying bodies. That is why they exile themselves to space, to prevent infecting the healthy population. If Janus sets them down on Andromeda 16 they could kill thousands with their own deaths.” He said.

“Shuttle and Talexian ship has entered Andromeda 16 space lanes, sir. Eighteen minutes until orbital threshold.” Marshi turned to the bridge officer as he spoke, then back to Marsius.

“Sir, why didn’t you tell us?” she asked. Marsius sat silent, watching the view screen. “It is part of the Pact of Migar. The pact buys silence of their condition.”

“Fourteen minutes to orbital threshold.” Marsius sat down in the command chair. He took one last look at the Talexian ship. “Target their ship's stardrive and fire.” He said. The Andromedan cruiser shook as a plasma burst fired from its weapons array and hit the Talexian ship. The shockwave of its explosion caused a feedback of the tractor field of the shuttle and sent it into a tailspin. “Send command override codes to the shuttle and assume control of the shuttle.” He ordered. He stood up and studied what little dust and debris remained of the Talexian ship. He manually opened a channel to the shuttle. “White Dwarf Darron, you are in violation of Article six, subsection four of the Kairin Empire constitution and Article nine of the Star Brigade Charter. You are to be placed under arrest and brought before Star Brigade command.” He turned to his officers “Have a security detail on the hanger bay deck and confine him to quarters immediately.”

Marsius stopped briefly in his retelling of his history with Janus Darrron. Endless One had been gracious enough to call an emergency meeting of the Dawn Patrol so he could have this talk with them. They were all seated at a large rectangular table in the conference room while he stood at the front looking out at them as he spoke. He picked up his glass and the pitcher of water on the end of the table only to realize that the pitcher was empty. In his nervousness he had drank all the water in it. Grace stood up and went to the center of the table grabbing the still full pitcher there. She came up to him and poured into his empty glass. She handed him the water while offering a reassuring hand on his shoulder. When the meeting started she had taken the chair on the front corner specifically so she could be close to him, to show her support for her Binary and as she sat back down she casually slid it closer to him. “Whenever you’re ready.” She whispered to him. He set down his glass, returned his gaze to his teammates.

“Within three days a Talexian war fleet approached the Kairin Empire. The Talexian Primogen arrived in his own flagship. Janus had been returned to Star Brigade command on Andromeda 3, I had been ordered to remain behind and await the arrival of the Star Brigades own imperial flagship. They had arrived just hours before we made first contact with the Talexian fleet. Centuries of hard fought peace were about to be lost due to the actions of one man, Janus Darron.

“I along with Nova Strangham met with the Talexian Primogen, their Republic officers and several representatives of the Council of the Kairin Empire to avoid war. Janus’ actions went beyond not honoring the dying Talexians request. The Time of Passing holds a sacred and deeply personal meaning for their people. It had taken a monumental act of faith in them to entrust its fulfillment to us and in their eyes, we had dishonored not only the Pact of Migar, but their beliefs as well.”

“How was the war avoided? You’ve never mentioned that your people were involved in any current wars, so we can only assume it didn’t happen.” Shan asked. She had taken a particular interest in the conversation and was leaned over on the table her hands folded in front of her.

“I had to bear witness against Janus, providing not only my testimony, but the testimony of my officers corroborated with the recorded logs of my ship. War was avoided only by the understanding of the Talexian Primogen that new officers of any race often make mistakes. The Pact of Migar was amended to include that any Talexian ship on it’s way to meet their Passing, would now journey to one agreed upon central location where a single Andromedan cruiser would meet them to honor their last days, a cruiser that would be manned by only one Star Brigade officer. We quickly established a station at the location to provide living arrangements for that officer. The appointed officer would serve no less than a year at this location and the position would be rotational. In order to further atone for the actions of the man in my command, I volunteered to take the first tour of duty there. The Talexian Primogen was moved by the responsibility I was prepared to take and the new amended pact was signed. “Only I was not assigned to the station, my presence was required to once again offer testimony against Janus, to both Star Brigade command and the Kairin Empire council. White Dwarf Marshi Brax volunteered to take the duty. When I left for Earth, she was still at that post. I can only assume she has been promoted and rotated out of that position.

“By weeks end, Janus Darron was stripped of his rank, labeled a Black Hole in the Star Brigade records and removed from service. I have not seen or heard word of him since, until now.” Marsius placed his hands on the table, lowered his head away from their eyes and let out a heavy sigh. The memories of that event and retelling it were wearing him down. He felt a softness on his hand and glanced over to see Grace’s hand on top of his, her eyes up into his. He felt warmth and strength emanate from her touch.

“I have learned from Nova Strangham that six days ago, Janus Darron infiltrated and appropriated the new star slider ship that was being constructed to come to Earth. I believe that Janus is coming here to enact vengeance upon me for what he feels was my responsibility, his disgrace from the Star Brigade.

“There is one other thing I must advise you. As many of you know, my powers are derived from an implant of protostar matter in my frontal lobe. It fuels me and in many ways becomes part of me, and I it. It is an honor bestowed upon members of the Star Brigade once we reach the rank of Crimsonstar. The power each man or woman exhibits from their implant varies and is believed to be influenced by our own inner desires. Janus Darron would seem to have sympathizers deep with the Brigade. We have learned that he now has a protostar implant of his own. An implant in the mind of one bent on revenge could result in that person gaining unimaginable power. When he gets here, I predict he will be very unstable, incredibly dangerous, and will stop at nothing to draw me out.”

Shan stood up resting her hands on the table top. “Marsius, don’t worry, when he gets here we’ll all be ready.” She said. Marsius held up his hand. “I appreciate that Field Commander, but you misunderstand. I have told you all this history in order to give you an appropriate reference and to stress the importance of what is to come. I admire every member of Dawn Patrol and will always fight at your side, but this is one battle I will have to face alone.”

“Like Hell you will.” Grace said under her breath just loud enough for him to hear, her eyes fixing on him intently.

Major Britain stood up from his chair and stepped up to him. “You sure about this?” he asked.

“Yes. In Janus’ eyes if I defeat him with the aid of my friends then it will be a hollow victory. He will only be sated if it is just he and I.” Major Britain nodded as Shan also came around the table “I want all Patrollers to keep their comms open and I’m placing us on full alert until Janus is dealt with. Marsius, if you change your mind just say the word.” She turned to dismiss the meeting and caught a glance of Grace, sitting at the table, her fingers furiously drumming on the table top. “I suspect you’re about to have an even bigger battle than on your hands about five minutes after we’ve cleared the room.” She said and Dawn Patrol left to begin their assignments, all except for Grace.

She watched the rest of Dawn Patrol leave and stood up and crossed her arms. Her eyes were narrowed and her look would have eaten through steel. “No. Way. In. Hell.” She said, pausing at each word to drive her point home.


“No Marsius, I mean it. You can tell the rest of the team that you don’t want to involve them and that’s fine. Only I’m your Binary, and according to your own words, it’s a pact between two people whose abilities compliment each other to the point of them acting as one. I don’t take that position lightly. If you weren’t expecting me to take the position seriously then you should never has asked me. I will not let you face Janus alone, especially what you’ve just told us. I’ll chain us together at the wrists if I have to, but you are not going against him without me.”

“Grace,…..okay, you’re right.” He consented, quicker than she expected. “Allow me to at least first confront him alone, and then, contact you if it appears he isn’t willing to talk.”

She pulled out her PDA, started changing settings. “Marsius, out of respect for you and our Binary relationship, I’ll let you do that, but I’m setting this PDA to ring like a three alarm fire when your number rings me, and so help me, if I find out that you don’t call me….” He put his hand out to briefly cover her fingers punching keys furiously. “Grace, I promise, I’ll call.” She finished setting her PDA and placed it back in her pocket.

“I’ll see you later after I’ve completed my work assignments. We should discuss combat plans for when Janus arrives.” Marsius smiled and walked out of the Dawn Patrol base with her.

“And so, until the current situation is resolved, there will be no more trips through the portal back to Andromeda 3.” Marsius said. Agent Reynolds stood beside him along with the director of Portal Corps as he relayed the news to Robby. Attempts to reach Jessica had proven unsuccessful and Marsius would check on her after his meeting there.

“What about the proposed alliance with Earth and the Kairin Empire Agent Reynolds and you were working on? What about your going home?” Robby asked looking over the huge pile of paperwork that they had handed him when the meeting started.

“The alliance will still happen, but Marsius and the Kairin Empire council have all agreed that the impending arrival of Janus Darron will need to be dealt with first.” Reynolds said, motioning to the waiting NSA agents and workmen in the back of the lab.

“And all these forms, am I reading this correctly, you’re taking over the project?”

“The Andromedan Transit Portal is now under sole jurisdiction of the United States Government and pending Earth-Kairin Alliance and is to be relocated to an undisclosed location.” Reynolds said and nodded to the director of Portal Corps. “We have more than adequately reimbursed Portal Corps for their operating expenditures and Director Stein has assured me that both you and Doctor Sheppard will be retained and reassigned.” He left to oversee the work of the moving crew. Marsius took a moment to shake both Director Stein and Robby’s hands. “Thank you for all your hard work. I wish there was another way, but I find that I’m inclined to agree with Agent Reynolds assessment that the project now be controlled by the Earth-Kairin Alliance. I will see about finding you placement within the organization, Robby, if you care to be involved further from here on.” Robby nodded and grabbed Marsius’ arm before he too left them.

“What about Jessica? This was her endeavor after all. Shouldn’t someone tell her?”

“I will be stopping by her apartment to inform her personally as we were unable to reach her.” Marsius said. He excused himself and approached Reynolds.

“Hang on a moment.” He said to into his cell phone, and then turned to Marsius. “We should have everything moved within the next hour and set up by morning. You have the new location we discussed?”


“Marsius, I’m sorry, I wish there was another way, but with this Janus character coming to Earth, you have to agree that the chances of him gaining access…”

“Save it.” Marsius said. “You’ve gotten what you wanted, control of Dr. Sheppards transit portal. Just remember what I said, Reynolds, this portal will remain under control of the Earth-Kairin Alliance. If I or the Star Brigade observe any attempt by your government to use it for anything other than communication or travel by approved personnel on Alliance business, I’ll shut it down.” He turned, once again not allowing Reynolds any chance to counter and flew out of the Portal Corps lab.

Her phone had rung several times over the last few days. She answered it once, it was Marsius but he didn’t recognize her voice, apologized for having a wrong number and hung up. The phone rang immediately again after that. She didn’t answer it anymore. The skin on her legs, arms, and her entire body was becoming dry, cracked and started to peel as if she had suffered severe sunburn, but underneath the peeling areas her skin wasn’t the same. It was turning into dark red, leathery scales.

Yesterday two small unrecognizable appendages had started forcing their way out of her back, just inside her shoulder blades. Today she could see them in the mirror as they continued to slowly work their way out of her back, talons at the end of them and covered in the same red scaly skin that was taking over her body. Wings.

She could no longer wear her pants; the prehensile tail that forced its way out of her coccyx couldn’t be contained in them, forcing her to wear skirts, or nothing at all. Even her tears were no longer normal, burning her skin as they ran down her cheeks.

What’s happening? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not like this. She cried softly to herself. He won’t love me like this. She was snapped out of her misery the sound of someone knocking on her apartment door.

“Jessica? Dr. Sheppard, are you home? It’s Crimsonstar, Marsius. I need to speak with you.” he called from the hallway, his hand lightly rapping on the door. Her despair turned to panic, had she locked the door? With his great strength would it even stop him if he thought something was wrong and forced it open? “Marsius, no.” she cried weakly. She ran through the apartment, and jumped through the plate glass door of her patio. The new wings she had grown reacting instinctively.

He could hear something moving around inside, she had to be home. “Jessica? I can hear you inside, please I need to speak with you.” he said, again rapping on the door. His knock was answered by a crash, the sound of glass breaking. He laid his hand palm down on the door and with one fluid motion he shoved the door in and off the hinges. “Jessica!” he yelled flying into her apartment. A foul odor filled his nostrils when he entered and scattered about on the floor were large heaps of skin and hair. “By Kairin’s blood, what’s happened here?” he said. Freshly broken glass lined the carpet and he could see a winged creature outside flying away from the apartment. He flew out the patio door, shattering what remained of it and grabbed the thing by its foot.

“No!” it hissed and they both plummeted to the street below. It clawed at him with both hands, spitting something acrid at him that melted part of his uniform when it hit. They twisted and turned as they fell. He tried to break free of it, to fly away, but it’s tail wrapped around his waist, continuing to pull him down with it. They landed in the parking lot, the pavement smashing when they hit. The hard landing disoriented the thing and he grabbed the tail, prying if from around him and slung the beast into the side of the building.

“Where is Dr Sheppard, what have you done with her?” he yelled, advancing on it to not allow it a moment to regain its composure. He grabbed it by the throat, hauling it up to look it in the face. Then suddenly he stopped, his hand releasing it as he recognized the face. It was badly distorted, but there was no mistaking it. “Jessica?”

She fell to her hands and knees, her tail lashing about furiously behind her. “Marsius.” She said.

“Jessica, what’s happened? Who did this to you?” he said now moving back to her, helping her stand. She let him guide her to her feet, her arms around him. “I just wanted to be like you, to be special. You told me that maybe if I had powers, maybe I could be with you.” she said, her words were slurring.

“The heroine from the other week, Crimson Justice, Jessica, that was you? What were you thinking? How did you get like this?” he asked, his eyes widening.

She shook as a new set of convulsions racked her body and yet even more of her old skin fell away. “Th—Thorns, gave me..gav….”

“Thorns, as in the Circle of Thorns? Jessica, what have you done?” he asked. He had witnessed so much misery and pain in his friends brought on by the Circle of Thorns. She was only the latest in a long line of their sins.

“Betrayed, lied to me.” She said, and then looked up at him. So much of the woman he knew as Jessica Sheppard was disappearing before him but her eyes showed that she still resided in this creature. “Help me, Marsius, please.”

“Yes Jessica, I will. I’ll do whatever I can, there has to be a way to stop this, change you back. I’m sure MAGI can help. I’ll call Grace, with her contacts I’m sure….”

“NO!” she screamed. “Not her, you. Love me, Marsius.”

“What?” he asked.

“I love you. All you have to do is love me. Love me and I’ll be whole.” She said and grabbed him, forcing him to kiss her. He pulled at her arms, to break free of her, but her strength had not only returned to her but seemed to have doubled. He could feel her tail start to once again wrap around his waist.

“Jessica, Jessica, no.” he managed to say, finally getting her to release him. “I care for you, but I don’t love you.”

She kept trying to cling at him, her claws now starting to scratch at his costume, his face. “You have to love me! I did this for you, to be with you. If you love me I’m sure I’ll be fine. Love me Marsius!” she was screaming, tearing at him frantically. He pushed her aside sending her hurling into a parked car. He didn’t want to hurt her, she needed help, but she was quickly becoming dangerous. “Jessica, listen let’s get you help, then you and I, we can talk, okay?” he said hoping to calm her down and get her out of the street and to the mages at MAGI.

“Liar! You won’t love me! You only have eyes for her! I’ll make you love me, I’ll make you forget about her!” she rose into the air and started to streak away through the sky.

“Jessica!” he yelled taking to air after her. She looked over her shoulder, stopped and turned in midair and ripped a cornice stone off a building and hurled it at the front of small store in the street. She was getting even stronger, soon she might even be too much for him to handle. He dove down, landing in front of the store front just in time to let the hurtling concrete slam into his chest. The people inside, all having seen their impending doom and cowered behind the various store shelves, now crept out relieved that it had been averted. He scanned the skyline, but she was gone.

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